Marine officer: Current faster than it appears

Published 1:11 am Saturday, August 10, 2013

Appearances can be deceiving when dealing with river current, said Sgt. Walter Lacey, the Alabama Marine Police’s public information officer and head of information and training.

The message comes after the drowning death of a 7-year-old boy earlier this week in the Yellow River. The boy, who was tied to a tree with a rope, was swept under by the current and pushed into some tree limbs underwater, where he drowned.

“First, our water pool is full because of all the rain,” Lacey said. “And even if we don’t experience the rainfall here, what happens north of us, we eventually see that in our river system.”

Lacey said that large amounts of rainfall can contribute to not only a rising water line, but also a swifter current.

Lacey said the shallower or narrower the riverbed becomes, the faster the water must flow to pass through, and vice versa.

“When it comes to looking at the river, a smooth surface doesn’t mean the current isn’t running under the water,” Lacey said. “There’s no way to determine the speed of a river. The big thing is, like I said, the river may look flat, but two feet or five feet below the surface, there’s no way of knowing how fast that water is going.”

Lacey said two-thirds of those who drown are experienced swimmers.

“That’s why we say, that even if you’re an experienced swimmer and you don’t know the true depth of the water, wear some kind of personal flotation device.”

Current water levels at Yellow River were not available, but in the wake of midweek rains, law enforcement personnel said on Friday the river was up several feet over levels on Tuesday, the day the drowning occurred.

However, at the end of July, rainfall totals at Yellow River Bridge on Hwy. 55 were 41.84 inches year to date, compared with 32.32 inches in the same period last year.